Sunday, December 12, 2010

Write a note on Blake's vision of childhood as depicted in the "Songs of Innocence".

The world of the "Songs of Innocence" is largely a child's world. It is a world of simplicity, purity, happiness, and security, though touches of the adult world of misery and guilt do occasionally intrude here. The central situation in this world is that of a child or young animal delighting in life. Fear is not necessarily totally absent from this world, but when danger threatens, a parent-figure (father, mother, God, or angel) is at hand to console and to comfort.

The keynote of the world of the "Songs of Innocence" is struck in the very opening poem called Introduction which is a little pastoral but which is also an appropriate preface to the poems that follow. Blake here thinks of himself as a shepherd with a pipe, playing songs of joy in the open country, when he sees a "child" on a cloud. At the bidding of the child, he pipes first a song about a lamb; and under its inspiration he writes "happy songs" which "every child may joy to hear". The child in this poem seems to carry suggestions of (1) the Christ child speaking from Heaven (a "cloud"); (2) an angel symbolizing innocence; and (3) the spirit of pastoral poetry. It is possible therefore to treat the poem as an allegory, its subject being divine inspiration. The poem brings divinity effortlessly to earth. The fact that the poem deals with divine inspiration in such simple and natural terms makes it a highly appropriate introduction to the Songs of Innocence. The poet shows himself setting out happily to record the joys of childhood which are pure and secure.
The Echoing Green is the record of a happy day. It is a little idyll of a village green on a warm afternoon in late spring. But it is also a symbolic presentation of the days of innocence from sunrise to sunset. Children, young folk, and the old people—all participate in an "unfallen" enjoyment of life in a beautiful natural environment. The poem reminds us of the Biblical picture of Adam and Eve before they sinned and were expelled from Paradise. Even the reminiscences of the old people seem not to contain any regret. The end of the day brings rest and refreshment, not fear of darkness.
The Lamb suggests the Lamb of God that "taketh away the sin of the world". What is vital in this poem is the nature of the innocent creature of God. Innocence has a divine source. The innocent lamb symbolises Christ, the incarnation of love and tenderness. The child who speaks in the poem is also identified with Christ because Christ became a child and particularly praised the innocence of children. The child-like qualities of this poem lie particularly in the little speaker's unselfconscious and serious address to the lamb as to another little child, and on his delight in repetition.
The Shepherd is a tiny pastoral which celebrates the happiness of rural responsibility and trust. The Christian imagery of the Good Shepherd underlies the poem, but it is noteworthy that the shepherd derives undoubted human pleasure from his job. Not only the shepherd but the ewes and the lambs seem to have achieved a sense of fulfilment. An important idea here is that the shepherd in no way restricts the freedom of the sheep: he follows them, and they are given confidence by his presence. The sheep's security is the security of the child's world too.
It is better to regard Infant Joy as an imaginary dialogue between a parent (father or mother) and an infant, than as a dialogue between a fairy and an infant. The poem is a tiny drama in which the parent supplies, in the first stanza, fanciful words for the child to express its feelings, and in the second stanza goes on to express his or her own feelings about the baby. According to another interpretation the child who speaks is as yet unborn, and thus has no name; it has been conceived two days within its mother's womb. If that is so, Blake seems to say that the life of children, born and unborn, is joyful and brings joy to the parents.
The central idea of The Little Black Boy is expressed in the following two lines:
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
This idea may be derived from the Puritan tradition of life as a trial deliberately imposed by God, but Blake has considerably refined it. The little black boy has the same human soul, and is just as much one of God's lambs as the little white boy, says Blake.
Laughing Song admirably blends the world of humanity and the world of non-human Nature. The green woods laugh joyfully, as do the stream, the air, the green hill, the meadows, and the grasshopper. Mary, Susan, and Emily, with their "sweet round mouths" are hardly distinguishable from the birds, and it is not certain whether the table is spread with cherries and nuts for the birds or the small girls. The poem has aptly been called "a little rhapsody for a rural picnic".
Spring is a true child's poem in the way it shows a child's selective delight in Nature. The child speaks of birds, the nightingale and the lark and the cock, and he speaks to a little lamb, besides speaking to a little boy and a little girl. But the poem is also an example of Blake's ability to use natural symbols without removing them from the child's world of direct sensation. Symbolically the poem shows the joyful unity of Nature and innocent man.
The nurse in Nurse's Song provides a background of love and security for the children because she herself is quite confident and secure: "My heart is at rest within my breast". The nurse is not weak, but benevolent; and she agrees without anxiety to the children's request for more time to play in the evening. The natural background is tranquil and harmless. Night is simply a time for rest. In subject this poem is a companion to The Echoing Green.
A Cradle Song is a lullaby sung by a mother over her child. The poem is a "miracle of motherly tenderness". Among the "Songs of Innocence" this poem occupies a central position because happiness is here complete. The child is here shown as being always in the presence of love—the angel of sleep, the mother, or Christ.
In The Divine Image we are given a picture of human nature as a child would see it. Blake is here saying: "This is life as seen through innocent eyes". The child's eyes see God truly, and see that God and man share the same good qualities—mercy, pity, peace, and love. (These eyes do not yet see that these virtues are corrupted in the adult world of the senses).
In Holy Thursday Blake speaks of the innocent faces of the children. They are children of charity schools and Blake describes them as "these flowers of London town". "They sit with radiance all their own". They are "multitudes of lambs". Thus the emphasis is on innocence, purity, meekness, and radiance. Such is the world of children. The poem ends with a moral which could have occurred only in the "Songs of Innocence". Cherish pity, says the poet to us, lest in hardening your hearts, you drive a child away from your door.
The Blossom is a child's expression of delight in the birds like the sparrow and the robin. The speaker seems to be a little girl whose motherly feeling for the birds is conveyed partly by the word "bosom". The blossom, as well as the child, sees and hears the birds, giving an additional impression of natural innocence and uniting the human child, the birds, and the plants in simple harmony.
In The Chimney Sweeper, the little slaves, black with soot, become clean, free, and happy in a green plain by a river in the sun:
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.
In spite of the obvious misery of their lives, the boys retain a vision of eternal happiness and are sustained by it. Like Holy Thursday, this poem closes with a moral: "So if all do their duty they need not fear harm". Whatever the poetic objections to this didactic statement, it strikes an optimistic note.
Night contains pleasing pictures of angels watching over all creatures, animal and human. If any sheep are killed by beasts of prey, the angels receive their spirits "in new worlds". In those new worlds even the beasts of prey will be transformed: the lion will lie down with the lamb and meditate upon Christ. Swinburne said that nothing like this poem was ever written on that text of the lion and the lamb; no such heaven of sinless animal life was ever conceived so intensely and sweetly.
In A Dream the speaker's own bed is guarded by angels, and the lost mother ant is helped to return to her children by a glow-worm and a beetle. No creature, human or otherwise, is in serious danger; fear will be dispelled by love.
On Another's Sorrow expresses the view that pity is both human and divine. No mother or father can endure a child's suffering. Likewise God cannot witness the suffering of his creatures without being moved to tears. God smiles on all and
He doth give his joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.
Indeed, this poem appears to be a summary of the central doctrine of the "Songs of Innocence".
In the two poems which tell us of a boy lost and found, God appears to the boy in the shape of his father and leads him home to his mother. The boy's father has somehow failed to protect the boy, but help is at hand; the cry for love is answered by God who is "ever nigh". The boy returns contentedly to his mother.
It is clear, then, that the world depicted in the "Songs of Innocence" is free from fear, anxiety, care, guilt, repressive influences, and suffering. That is why we call it a child's world. Such is the world a child inhabits. The poems of this group give us an insight into the psychology of a child, but it is not the entire psychology of children that is revealed. We are given only the bright aspects of child-psychology.
As has been hinted above, suggestions of cruelty, ugliness, injustice, and suffering are not totally absent from the "Songs of Innocence". Here and there we get anticipations or adumbrations of the world that is depicted in the later group (the "Songs of Experience"). The little black boy's sense of inferiority to the white boy, for instance, clings to him even in paradise. Even in paradise, the black boy must attend upon the white boy and serve him in order to win his love. In A Cradle Song there is a reference to the "sweet moans" and "dove-like sighs" of the infant; the mother weeps over the infant as he sleeps; Christ is pictured as weeping "for me, for thee, for all". In Holy Thursday the fact that we are reading an account of children who depended on charity cannot remain hidden, and we do experience a pang to think of them just as we experience a pang when we read about little Tom Dacre in The Chimney Sweeper. In Night suffering and death do exist and cannot be evaded. When wolves and tigers howl for prey, the angels stand helplessly and weep to see the sheep being killed and eaten. The Little Boy Lost, if read apart from its sequel, is really a tragic poem:
The night was dark, no father was there; The child was wet with dew.
Apart from the poem's poignancy, "dew" is used by Blake to symbolize materialism, and the "vapour" in the same poem symbolizes perhaps man's reasoning power.
However, the predominant impression which the "Songs of Innocence" produce on us is, as already stated, that of joy, gentleness, and purity.

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